I don’t mince words when I say that looking for a solid, biblical church is akin to a trek through the wilderness. Granted, I’m not talking about literally walking through a desert as the Israelites did. Yet it can definitely be a spiritual desert void of much spiritual food. This month will mark one year since my family and I began this search. What a journey it has been. We’ve seen a little of the good, plenty of the bad, and lots more of the ugly. Along the way, I hope the Lord has used this time in the proverbial wilderness to grow us in our faith. He’s given us a bit of manna along the way, but that same manna has also pointed us in the direction of eventually resting in a local church. Somewhere. At some point. And so the journey continues.
Some people wonder why it’s taking us so long to settle down within a fellowship. Truth be told, we’re having such a difficult time because so many of these churches rub up against our doctrinal convictions. I’m not talking about differences over secondary issues, though some may construe it that way. For example, we have convictions regarding the Fourth Commandment and you can probably call us Sabbatarians in that regard. How are we supposed to fellowship with people in a church where the common practice is to go out to eat after the service? (We simply can’t afford to do that anyway, but that’s another issue altogether). Another conviction is being family-integrated in our worship. In a number of churches, the pressure was on us to let our kids go to “children’s church” instead of keeping them with us in the service.
Focusing on worship itself, some churches have this “rock concert” atmosphere in which the music is ramped up loudly. My wife told me on the way home from such a church that she just couldn’t focus on the worship of God because the loud music was such a distraction, a practical problem aside from any consideration of the regulative principle. We’re not old fuddy-duddies, by the way. Hollie and I are both in our early 30s. In fact, we’re done everything we can to be flexible without breaking any of these convictions. Differences in music? Okay. Casual dress? That’s fine. We’ve laid our hymnals/psalters aside and I’ve gone without a tie a few Sundays or two. We really did try to fit into some of these places and show charity.
After years of not really having a lot of genuine fellowship, we definitely put a high premium on that. Yet most of the churches we considered are pretty far away. How are we supposed to have fellowship when almost everyone else is at least 45 minutes away? Can’t happen. You can think this is nitpicky, but I know of a pastor who actually tells some prospective members to find another fellowship if they don’t live close enough. It’s that important. Not only were these churches farther out than us, but they were in areas with a much higher socio-economic status. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s much more difficult to fellowship (and be able to relate) with a congregation of people who don’t have the same struggles and way of life.
I’m not writing all of this to complain or “vent my emotions” as it were. In fact, Scripture tells us not to do that (Prov. 29:11). Rather, I’m just laying out in general terms the paths we’ve taken and the problems we’ve experienced along the way. And this isn’t to say that God hasn’t used these experiences for our good. In almost every place we’ve visited, we’ve experienced kindness and warmth. We’re blessed because of that. In some places, we’ve heard good preaching too. Yet those convictions we have are there and everywhere we go it just seems like we’re fish out of water. Our goal was never to dot every “I” and cross every “T” in Reformed theology, but simply to find a church which actually worships biblically.
In one church in particular, I was told by one of the elders that we need to keep our doctrinal convictions about certain matters to ourselves and not discuss them with other members of the congregation, lest they be led astray. Say, what? Yes, that actually happened. In another church, I filled out an information card to find out more about the church and perhaps talk with one of the elders. No elder ever called, but one of the ladies from the church called to specifically talk with my wife. She jokingly remarked to my wife that she was surprised to see a husband actually fill out the card. I can only assume they aren’t big advocates of men actually being the heads of their households.
It’s very tempting to give into the notion that we’re just being too picky or otherwise trying to “find the perfect church” as someone else said. But it really isn’t about that. Not at all. Last Sunday we listened to a sermon from Joel Beeke about the necessity of raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. In that sermon, he stressed the importance of children having a “seamless” witness of biblical Christianity from all of the influences around them. That includes us as parents and it also includes the church we attend. What kind of witness do we have when we lay aside convictions on essential matters just to put a check in the box for having attended church? My wife and I have to answer to God one day for the influences we’ve placed around them. Let that sink in.
So here we are…marching along in this spiritual wilderness. Depending upon where you live, searching out a new can be a daunting, heartbreaking, and often depressing task. We’re doing our best to keep our heads up and our eyes pointed toward Christ. I write this as encouragement to anyone out there going through the same type of wilderness. Sadly, this is normative for Christianity in America. If you’re walking the same trek, you aren’t alone. We know other brethren going through the same thing. Perhaps this is a time for us as a family to humble ourselves, repent, and seek the face of God. May I lead us to do just that and may we remember to have hearts of gratitude even in the midst of this.